Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How to Prepare an Expository Sermon

For the folks who have asked how I prepare a sermon, I am providing a simple step-by-step procedure I use for most every sermon. Any person familiar with modern preaching ideas will see I am greatly influenced by Haddon Robinson, Tim Keller, and Bryan Chapell.

Steps 1-6: Pray, asking God to speak through the Scriptures to the people of God, starting with yourself.
Step 2: Discover the Big Idea (through personal study)
Step 3: Craft a sermon
Step 4: Create an outline
Step 5: Write a manuscript
Step 6: Pray for your own heart and the people of God as you internalize the message

Each step is expanded on below:

STEP 1: Pray (begins days and weeks before preaching the sermon)
Ask the LORD to lead you and prepare you. Ask God to convict you of the truth of the text long before you preach this passage to others. Ask God to bring not merely information transfer but actual spiritual transformation through the Word of God rightly preached in the power of the Holy Spirit.

STEP 2: Discover the Big Idea (start work 10-14 days before preaching)
(1)   First, try and ascertain the exegetical idea of the passage. An exegetical idea summarizes the main thrust of the passage from the original hearers’ perspective, without much regard for other Biblical material. Basically, read and reread this single passage to get a sense on what you think this passage has to say.
(2)   Next, ask: what sin and/or improper belief could this chapter of Scripture be addressing?  That is, why is this passage here? What area of human disobedience or divine expectation for humans does this passage illuminate?
(3)   Does the passage before or after this passage have any connectors to this one?
(4)   What cross-references both in the Old and New Testament help me better understand this passage?
(5)   How does this passage point to Jesus? How does Jesus fulfill this passage? How does our worship of and belief in Jesus fulfill what we are to do according to this passage?
(6)   What ways do Christians fake obedience to this, but in reality are not fully transformed by the Gospel to obey fully? Also, what does application look like at the superficial level? What does application look like at the deep/soul level?
(7)   What doubts and concerns would immediately jump into the mind of an unbeliever? How would you answer them?
(8)   If you could summarize in one sentence what I must know from this passage what would you say?
(9)   If you could summarize what obedience to this passage would look like in one sentence, what would you say?
(10)           Write a big idea: In as few of words as possible, tell the modern listener what bearing and expectation this passage has on their life. It could be formed as a command. It could be formed as a powerful sentence. It could be worded in a crisp question that requires some sort of answer.

**It's at this point that I will take 2-4 hours to read commentaries, listen to sermons, or look for other relevant material that relates to my sermon. I try to not look at this stuff until I've first asked and answered all of the important questions on my own. Sometimes in reading commentaries and listening to other sermons, I will realize that my personal work wasn't sufficient and needs to be adjusted. Oftentimes, I find that my personal preparation has produced a deeper sense of the text than most commentators are willing to go.

STEP 3: Craft a sermon (usually 7-10 days before the sermon)
Once you have a big idea and the loads of information it took to discover it, decide how you’d like to walk through the passage.

            Will you share your big idea at the beginning of the sermon and then prove it or argue for it throughout the sermon? (deductive preaching)
            Will you walk through the text verse by verse and then show the congregation that these verses lead to your big idea? (inductive preaching)
            Will you have 2-4 main points? Unless the text demands it, it is usually hard to preach a 4 or more point sermon.
            Will you have one single application point at the end? Or will you sprinkle application throughout the sermon and then remind the people of your application points at the end?
            Are there any stories or illustrations from science, history, personal experience, etc. that would help make Biblical concepts more easily understood?

STEP 4: Make an outline (usually 7-10 days before the sermon)
I would recommend building an outline with a template something like this:
I.                   Introduction: Help me see and feel my need to hear this passage preached. Then explain how your passage just might lead me to believe and/or obey rightly for my joy, the Lord’s glory, etc.
II.                Main Points with illustrations/cross-references/etc.
III.             Application
IV.             Conclusion
Another helpful outline follows this pattern: hook, look, book, took
            HOOK: An opening question, paragraph, story or illustration that tries to hook your audience’s attention that directly relates to the main issue raised in the passage.
            LOOK: An invitation to look at the Bible passage as a way to deal with the concern raised in the opening hook section.
            BOOK: A thorough but concise walk through the Bible with explanation, illustration, and application of the text to move us toward your Big Idea.
            TOOK: The (re)presentation of your Big idea and your main application point(s) that all the hearers are supposed to take home.

STEP 5: Write a manuscript (usually 4-10 days before the sermon)
Go back and write out approximately how you’d like to articulate each of your main sections of your outline. This is the best preparation whether you preach with the manuscript, with a few notes, or with no notes at all.

STEP 6: Final Prep (day before and day of sermon delivery)
            I spend 1-3 hours the night before and 1-3 hours the morning of the sermon to prepare my heart and mind. I read and reread the sermon. Pray by name (if possible) for those to whom I’m preaching. And try to expose myself to other passages that stir my own soul to serve God faithfully (often 1 Corinthians 1-4). 

Often this kind of preparation allows me to preach with minimal reliance upon my notes during the actual sermon. I usually take a full manuscript into the pulpit, but look at it less than 20% of the sermon.

Estimated time line:
            Step 1: Start praying several days before you begin preparation. Total time: ??
            Step 2: Big Idea Study, 5-10 hours
            Step 3: Crafting, 1-2 hours
            Step 4: Outline, 1-2 hours.
            Step 5: Manuscript, 1-2 hours
            Step 6: Final prep - 2-5 hours

Total time: 10-20 hours (and on up from there)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Murder of the Innocents in Connecticut and our Response

20 children's lives were taken yesterday along with six adults in Newtown, CT--a massacre that leaves a nation asking why and dozens of families shattered. For the Christian, the sting is even more bitter as we ask how could God allow such a thing. How could a good and all-powerful God allow evil like this into our world?

Others wiser and more compassionate than I have attempted to answer this question (When God Weeps by long-time paralytic Joni Earekson-Tada is a good place to start). And yet, the best answer I see comes right out of the early chapters of the life of Jesus. The answer being: God doesn't let evil have the last word.

Matthew 2:16-18 records another massacre of the innocents. The power-hungry (and probably insane--albeit emotionally and physically disturbed) King Herod had heard that a new king had been born in Bethlehem. This was taken as a threat...a rival king just down the road. Being unsure of the exact arrival of the baby king, he sends a mob of soldiers to take the lives of all male children under the age of 2. In a small village like Bethlehem, the number was probably much like the 20 innocents lost yesterday in Connecticut. Jesus was the main target, but he had escaped.

Here's the message I'm telling myself today. Why have I escaped? Why was my elementary son spared yesterday? He went to school. I picked him up. He was safe...20 others were not.

Well, Jesus escaped because God was not going to let evil be the last word. Jesus was the prince of peace, the wonderful counselor, the mighty God. He was the Messiah (the king!) of a a new kind of people (us!). Through his life and teaching, we're saved from the evil in our hearts and the hell of our future. But our faith is not an escape to be taken lightly. We live to go forth as counselors, princes and princesses of peace, and servants of the mighty (and amazingly humble) God.

So today, let evil not be the last word.

Be a different kind of people: kind, givers of peace, compassionate, caring, honest, and mercifully just. We've escaped not for our glory, but to advance the glory of the humble king who came as a baby in a feeding trough, died as an innocent criminal on a Roman cross, and yet rose triumphant over evil, death, hell, and Satan.

This is the path to evil's end--a narrow road, but a road filled with hope.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A recommended reading list...

So, I've been working on a reading list that I would pass on to Christians and people interested in exploring Christianity. I didn't include all my favorite pieces of fiction or biography (which are many), but I did try to create a list that would be helpful.

Click here to see the list!!

I'd appreciate hearing what books you'd also recommend and what books you might push back on that I have included in my list.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Great Churches make Great Preachers

In a recent sermon I heard by Haddon Robinson, he remarked offhandedly  "It is commonly misconceived that great preachers make great churches, but it is the opposite that is true: great churches make great preachers."

I'd like to expound on what Haddon meant for he was absolutely right:

1) A great church hungers for God's Word. This inspires the preacher to labor faithfully to bring forth something that will satisfy that hunger.

2) A great church knows God's Word. The preacher would never bring a surface level, ad hoc "talk" before a people he knew were faithful students and practitioners of the Bible.

3) A great church prays. The greatest 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon was asked the secret to his success. He rightly responded, "My people pray for me."

4) A great church serves. A preacher knows he is only one servant among many, but because others are using their gifts as well, the church grows to maturity as each does its own work.

5) A great church proclaims the Gospel. The preacher may have the privilege of opening God's Word to feed the people on Sunday for 30-60 minutes, but in the remaining minutes of the week, God's people are heralding the truth of the Gospel in their own spheres of influence.

6) A great church bears with its pastor. A preacher who is given permission by his church to learn from mistakes, take risks, and to fail possesses a boldness and power that a preacher that lives under scrutiny does not.

7) A great church makes disciples. A great church receives the Great Commission of Jesus (Mt. 28:19-20) and accepts it as their own responsibility, not the responsibility of the pastor alone. And yet to serve a church on fire for the Great Commission is almost as inspiring as the Master's command itself.

8) A great church loves. A church that loves its pastor, it's community, and one another has the greatest power source in the world. Christ builds His church with love and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. A pastor that serves a loving church is serving a great church, and such a church inspires a preacher to become a greater one each day and year of his life.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Reclaimng the expression "Do Christmas" this year

Our household has been talking a bit about the common question, "When are you going to 'do Christmas' this year?" This expression can be translated, "When are you going to 'open presents and eat a bunch of food with your family' this year?" that what Christmas is about? Now, most folks know that Christmas is really a shortened form of Christ's Mass--the celebration of the Christ child. That's good, but I'd like to create a new definition to the expression "do Christmas."

My new definition of "do Christmas" is this: Incarnational, self-sacrifice, where we love neighbor and die for our enemy.

Each phrase in this definition is a more helpful way to respond appropriately to the Christ-child. For example,

"Incarnational" relates to the fact that the Holy and Infinite God took on human flesh (John 1:14) so that He might share life with humanity. Thus, we have a call to go to people who are seemingly different. We enter into the lives of the rich if we are poor and the poor if we are rich. We go to those who feel alone, broken, and different. We come and enter into their lives.

"Self-sacrifice" relates to the fact that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve and give his life away as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Likewise, Christians must live lives of self-sacrifice and service in the worlds we live in (see Mark 10:41-44 and Philippians 2:3-11).

"Love neighbor" is the second greatest command in Scripture (Matthew 22:37ff.). To be like Christ is to love like Christ--to love those in need, closest to us (regardless of their ethnicity, social class, or moral status).

"Die for our enemy" is the epitome of Christ's work on the cross of human sinners. While we were still sinners in enmity with God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). To do Christmas aright requires us to willingly lay down our lives for those who consciously or unconsciously oppose us.

So, when are you doing Christmas this year? When are you going to live a life of incarnational, self-sacrifice where you love neighbor and die for your enemy?